Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Scheduling a Seminar - Options?

I'll be teaching a senior level English seminar in the not so distant future, and I'm trying to decide on how to request it be scheduled. The two big options I'm considering are to schedule it as a 3 hour, once a week block, in the evening, or to schedule it as a regular 1 hour a week class, meeting MWF. I could also ask that it be scheduled for 1:15, twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (Academic hours here are all 50 minutes, so a 3 hour block is really 150 minutes, and so forth. That gives everyone 10 minutes to get from one class to another.)

I'm already teaching one evening, three hour block class that term, and doing my athletic event, so that would mean three evenings out every week. That's do-able, especially since I would then ask to schedule my 5 hour writing class in the early afternoon or something. (It's 5 hours, but not necessarily an hour every day.) But it's also fine for me to teach mostly early in the day, with one evening class.

What I'm trying to figure out is what makes the most sense for our students.

I took three-hour night classes every night Monday through Thursday when I was working full time and going to a local community college. As a student, I had to be always focused for a long class, and that was difficult. It worked well for me because I was pretty much a red-hot at the time, but I know it didn't work well for every student. With a once a week class, if you get sick and miss a day, you've missed a week, and that hurts. And if you just aren't ready for class for some reason, that hurts. And being ready for all three hours of a class took good planning and effort.

So, my sense is that there are some down-sides from a student's point of view to a three hour class. For full time working folks, an evening class makes a lot of sense. Most of our students work part-time, and usually do classes during the days and fit work around, in the evenings, and on the weekends.

On the other hand, with a three hour session, you can really sink your teeth into stuff. That also seems to work well for the hour and fifteen minute session, but one of my university duties ties up Tuesdays pretty badly, so I couldn't teach my other classes on a Tuesday Thursday schedule; the combination would mean my teaching five days a week. (I like to avoid that, if I can.) An hour at a time means you break things into smaller chunks. That has it's upsides and downsides, too.

Upsides to the three hour chunk: Time to get a real discussion going. Time to work on things in class in a differently focused way. Once a week prep; I can keep track of a single conversation; once a week really focused grading when short assignments are due.

Downsides to a three hour chunk: A student who misses a day misses a LOT. Students have to be really prepared for every meeting; unprepared meetings would make for a just horrific class experience. Prep three days a week, spreads out the grading potentially.

As undergraduates, what were your experiences with longer class sessions? What upsides or downsides do you think I should think about that I haven't mentioned?


  1. Anonymous9:43 AM

    I usually disliked the three hour classes, for the reasons you specified above, but my senior seminar was one of these three hour classes, and it has come in quite handy. A lot of the people in my senior seminar were grad-school bound, and currently ALL of my grad school classes are 3 hours, once a week. If the situation is similar at your uni, I'd push for the three hour class. It is helpful to have experience as an undergrad in such a class before being bombarded with long classes as a grad student.

  2. Anonymous10:09 AM

    I liked the long classes, so long as the prof was merciful and had a break in the middle. The break also helped the class socialize which made the group tighter.

  3. It depended upon the professor. I would never take a three hour class with a professor who has very little personality in the class room. There have been many, during my undergraduate classtime, who were effective and I could easily have set through three hours, while others, I barely could do an hour. So, if you can keep them alert and engaged, which it sounds like you can, then three hours is the way to go.

  4. If you are doing something interactive then three hours with a break is good. Lecturing for three hours is brutal no matter which side of the podium you are on!

  5. Anonymous2:14 PM

    For literature, I will always (as both student and instructor) choose the long class over the very short. The TTh 90-minute class splits the difference, and most classes I had as an undergrad went this route. Are MW 90-minute classes an option for you? Just to avoid the teaching every weekday problem?

    I'm teaching a one-hour MWF class this quarter and hating it more than anything. There's no way to sustain a discussion, because by the time everyone trickles in and stops shuffling papers, it's time to pack up and head out again. When I give a quiz or an in-class assignment, I lose a quarter of the hour. Plus, I suspect students think that they don't have to have all the reading done by Monday, because we have the whole wide week ahead of us.

  6. Anonymous6:28 PM

    I think if any undergrad class should be 150 minutes, it should be the senior seminar...the value of depth is incalculable, and it's often small enough a group that you can add little pick-me-ups like food or the occasional off-campus meeting. I think if I had to do in a 50 minute class what I want to happen in such an upper-level course, I'd shoot the clock twice a week.

  7. 3 hours of wall-to-wall James Joyce and you'll have suicides. No longer than 2hrs. Aside from anything else, people need to pee. I doubt students raised on pop videos can sustain 3hr bouts of intense concentration. 1hr 30 to 2hrs is sustainable for some really pithy work. Two sessions across a week gives you more flexibility.